Schuler Moved From Tight End to Punter
By Dan Hiner
Two years ago, Youngstown State University’s Mark Schuler played a number of different positions for the Springfield High School football team. It’s also been two seasons since Schuler was called a punter, that is, until this summer.
Schuler started his YSU career as a tight end but didn’t see any playing time after being redshirted his freshman season. So when Schuler saw an opportunity to get on the field, he decided to make a change back to special teams.
“I always thought about it because two of my older brothers were punters, one almost went to the NFL, so I had a lot of teaching with that,” Schuler said. “Being a punter in high school, I always felt like I was a little bit better than the punters we faced because of my background — having my brother help me out.”
During the offseason, Schuler made the transition back to punter after last year’s starter Nick Sheely left the team.
“During camp, it transitioned a lot because there were four tight ends ahead of me on the depth chart,” Schuler said. “Just knowing I had a better opportunity to punt, I started working on it a little bit more and more. Eventually, I did it the whole time. I’m getting a lot more kicks off, a lot more reps, and I get an opportunity to shake that rust off. That really helped me a lot, especially going into that first game because it was a whole year and a little bit since I actually punted in a game.”
The Penguins brought in punter Nate Needham on national signing day to backup Sheely. Schuler said there is a learning curve associated with playing punter at the collegiate level.
Schuler said he went through it as a freshman last season, and he thinks Needham was going through the changes when the position was vacated. He said the transition from high school to college gave him an opportunity to step into the starting punter position before Needham got a chance to establish himself with the coaching staff.
“We both were doing well. We would both have a good day, and we both would have a bad day,” Schuler said. “Overall, I think I just did a little bit better because, especially for me last year, there’s a big transition from high school to college — just being a lot faster and you’re expected to do more. I think Nate [Needham] had that same mentality.”
Schuler said he was “a little jittery” when he took the field for the first time as a punter during YSU’s 45-10 win over Duquesne University.
“I was just thinking to myself ‘just get it off clean, don’t let it get blocked and don’t kick it into the end zone,’” Schuler said. “I kinda just tapped it a little bit. It got the job done but I think just being able to get out there helped me a lot — especially last week. It’s a lot bigger stage, going to a school like West Virginia.”
But Schuler has statistically performed better than the punters from last season. After the first two games, he’s averaged 41.6 yards per punt, including a 59-yard kick on Saturday against West Virginia University. YSU averaged 35.8 yards per punt last season.
During his senior season, he was a First-Team All-Ohio selection in Division IV. Schuler caught nine passes for 62 yards and a touchdown, recorded 72 tackles, four sacks and averaged 40.5 yards per punt on 31 attempts — including 12 inside the 20-yard line.
Schuler said there were schools that were looking at him to play other positions. He said the schools that had interest in him as a punter “hinted at it,” but didn’t officially bring it up to him during their recruiting pitches.
Schuler said the ability to practice against starting defensive ends Derek Rivers and Avery Moss allowed him to see what the best talent in college football has to offer. He said the opportunity to play at West Virginia didn’t affect him too much because he was forced to practice against the same level of talent during his redshirt season.
“Just being able to block them and go up against them in your first year, you’re like ‘oh my god it’s Derek Rivers. He’s like, a stud,’” Schuler said. “After a while you get used to it. Just being able to compete, and know I can compete, helped me a lot with my confidence and relax.”